By the early '80s, John Adams' reputation as a second-generation minimalist had been established through works such as "Shaker Loops" for string septet and "Phrygian Gates" for solo piano. That tag seemed a bit uncomfortable, however, as Adams never appeared to fully subscribe to such rigorous systems as those employed by Steve Reich or Philip Glass. With "Grand Pianola Music," Adams took a confident stride toward a more all-embracing type of American music; one might even say toward Americana. The work, scored for a small wind orchestra, two pianos, and four sopranos, uses delicate minimalist patterns as an underlying basis for much of its duration, but there are hints of other concerns: the odd brass fanfare here, a thumping bass drum there, as if a neighborhood marching band is practicing in the distance. By the third movement, that band explodes onto the scene with a strutting, rousing melody that might sound more at home in a work by Blitzstein or Copland than one by a supposed minimalist. Much of the success of the composition is due to Adams' straightforward, unapologetic use of such "old-fashioned" material. As on the cover painting, Charles Demuth's "My Egypt," a non-ironic appreciation of certain uniquely American sources of beauty provides this work with unusual strength.
AllMusic Review by Brian Olewnick